My love of camping and backpacking started in the YMCA. I went to an all girls camp where every camper went on an overnight canoeing, backpacking or kayaking trip ranging from two nights canoeing on the Manito-wish Waters, WI all the way to 52 days backpacking in Alaska’s Brooks Range. Gorgeous views, great friendships and personal growth were all takeaways from these trips— as they are on most any trip into the backcountry— but something else that I walked away with after these trips was a love of backcountry cooking. From meals as simple and comforting as Mac & Cheese, to dishes as gourmet as dutch oven baked, yeast rising crust, deep-dish pizza, I’ve always loved the experience (and deliciousness) of cooking with my camping partners.
So with that history in mind, I accepted the challenge of testing my first ever boil-in-a-bag meal: Biscuits and Gravy breakfast from Mountain House. To add even more to the rigorousness of this test, I brought along my girlfriend— a native of Atlanta, Georgia, she once upon ordering and trying a biscuits and gravy meal from a very well reviewed southern speciality restaurant said, “Eh, these don’t even come close to how Grandmama makes them.”
We packed up our gear, picked up a few friends and headed out to Lake Eleanor in Mount Rainier National Park. After a strenuous day hike to Grand Park from our basecamp at Lake Eleanor, we settled down for dinner: Chili Mac for five, cooked in a pot that had taken up a solid 1 1/2 by 1 foot space in my backpack. While definitely tasty, total cook time was about 40 minutes and, after our meal, we had a huge dirty pot to deal with.
Fast forward to the next morning: we wake up to a beautiful, bright morning on the lake, take out my friend’s 1 L pot, boil water in two minutes, pour the water into the Mountain House bag and wait just eight minutes. Already I’m pumped by how fast and easy the whole process was (I could almost feel a phantom soreness in my bicep from stirring last night’s pasta). Then it was time for the taste test— and the verdict? The biscuits and gravy were really, really good. Like, seriously delightfully tasty. The little biscuit pieces had a great chewy texture even after being immersed in the hot water, and the gravy was salty and thick (if you’ve had biscuits & gravy before, you know that those are positive descriptors). But what about our native Southerner’s evaluation, you ask? After her first bite: “Well, that’s damn good!” With further prompting she admitted that the Mountain House version still did not live up to Grandmama’s, but I think we all know that that was a losing battle to begin with.
If I were to make the Mountain House biscuits and gravy again, I would probably use a little less water— the directions give one standard water amount and one amount for “thicker gravy;” however, I thought that even the smaller water amount could have been a little lower. One pack serves either one hungry backpacker or two backpackers with smaller appetites, or an accompanying snack. The clean up— always my least favorite part of camp cooking (and possibly backpacking in general)— was a breeze, no dishes, and the resealable bag becomes a trash bag once you’re finished. At .37 pounds, the packed weight is great, and at 310 calories per serving (2 servings per pack) the biscuits and gravy will keep you going all morning.
In closing, while I haven’t abandoned my love of elaborate camp cooking, the Mountain House biscuits and gravy definitely convinced me of the possibility to go light, fast and easy-clean while still making a delicious meal. Cheers to them for making a partial convert out of me— it wasn’t easy.
As a company, Mountain House is also doing some good: this summer during their “Share Your Adventure” Campaign, in which visitors to their site could share photos from their own outdoor adventures, they donated two meals for every photo submitted to the National Association For Search and Rescue— pretty cool stuff.